Macros: Yea or Nay?

by Aimee Wojtowecz

IIFYM

No it’s not some secret cult, it’s the acronym for the “If It Fits Your Macros” movement. The premise being that the path to health and fitness relies solely on counting macronutrients: weighing and measuring everything before it passes your lips.

As nutritionists we often get asked about tracking, journaling, counting macros or “points”; whatever label you want to put on it, what it comes down to is accountability. Tracking our foods can absolutely be a useful tool, but maybe not in the ways you expect. There are many reasons to track that aren’t just about calories. You can track protein, fat or carbohydrate intakes, maybe you’re watching your sodium levels and need to track that, or you’re tracking your vitamin and mineral intake to make sure that you’re getting all the needed nutrients. You can track the QUALITY of the foods you’re taking in because maybe you’re trying to cut back on processed foods or maybe you are indeed tracking the calories as a means to reach your goals; not because those calories somehow increase or decrease your value as a human being but because you’re an athlete with goals that sometimes require certain calories.

The important takeaway here is that we want to learn how to have a healthy relationship with food and sometimes tracking can be a beneficial tool for that but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes tracking can lead to an obsession with food, or “clean eating”, or alter our relationship with exercise. If you know that tracking isn’t for you but you want to stay on track with your training and nutrition plan, what do you do when everyone is screaming at you that you must count macros?

Keep. It. Simple. 

We often recommend the plate method (1/2 plate non-starchy veggies, 1/4 lean meat and 1/4 complex carb) as a way to estimate portions and make sure that you are balancing meals with a combination of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, while also ensuring that you get plenty of fruits and vegetables throughout the day. It’s simple and effective. But if that seems overwhelming, start even simpler. Try starting by including a vegetable at most meals and snacks. Or start by having a single glass of water with every meal and snack.

You can make massive improvements to your health and fitness with the smallest of steps when it comes to your nutrition and as we all know, nutrition is the foundation upon which our fitness is built.

Inching the Needle

by Aimee Wojtowecz

Often in nutrition there seems to be this all or nothing approach. People get easily overwhelmed thinking that to make any progress they have to be 100% perfect all the time or it’s just not worth it at all. Well I’m here to tell you that’s simply not true. Where else in your life do you need to be, or can you be, 100% perfect? Nowhere. The answer you’re looking for is: nowhere. 

Nutrition is not all or nothing, food is not good or bad (our food doesn’t have morals, folks!), eating an ice cream cone in the summer doesn’t mean you are a bad person or a failure, it means you’re living your life. We only get 3 months of good weather here everybody, I would be disappointed for you if you spent all summer longing for Rookies and denied yourself for the sake of perfection!

What healthy nutrition is, is balance. It’s a series of habits and choices that sets us up for long-term success, it’s preventative health care, it’s community, it’s family, it’s celebration and sorrow. What it never is, is punishment. Healthy nutrition is about nourishing your body, mind and soul with foods that make you feel good AND help you reach your goals. This is done through incremental changes and adding healthy habits that over time will crowd out some of those unhealthier habits that are no longer serving your health or your goals. 

For example, maybe cheeseburgers are your favorite meal in the world and you eat them 4 times a week. I would never tell you that the only way to get healthy is to give up cheeseburgers forever. That’s miserable and unsustainable. What I might ask you is what steps are you willing to take to make that cheeseburger 1% healthier this week? Could you add lettuce and tomato? Could you use a whole-grain bun or make it open faced? Could you eventually sub in ground turkey (maybe even a 50/50 blend?)? Could you leave off the cheese 1-2 times this week? This might not sound like much when you think about all these little tweaks but what you don’t realize is how all these tiny little changes can really add up over time. Think about it like compounding interest in your retirement fund. You add a little, and a little, and a little bit more, but the interest compounds over time giving you a greater return down the line. Your health and nutrition are the same. These tiny little changes can lead to HUGE results and benefits over time that you didn’t even realize were happening because the changes didn’t seem life altering at the time. 

So I challenge you this week to look for one way that you can inch that needle just 1% closer to your goals. For me it’s adding one more glass of water each day. I would love to hear what your 1% is!

 

Nutrition and Your Mental Health

by Aimee Wojtowecz

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Binge eating, emotional eating, anxiety, depression, these are all branches of the same tree, our mental health. Now when you think about taking care of your mental health you might not automatically think about nutrition. It’s ok, most people don’t. But what most people also don’t realize is just how strong the connection is between what we are eating and how we are feeling. 

Did you know that studies have shown that a high compliance with the Mediteranean diet can reduce the risk of depression by up to 32%; 21 studies of 10 different countries found that a healthful dietary pattern (high intakes of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, fish, nuts and more) was associated with a reduced risk of depression while conversely a Standard American Diet (think high intake of processed meats, refined grains, sweets etc…) was linked to a significantly increased risk of depression; studies in adults over the age of 50 have shown a connection between diets high in saturated fats and added sugars and an increased levels of anxiety; similar results have also been seen in teenagers (1).

This doesn’t even begin to touch on the connection between our gut (the second brain!) health and our mental health. Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach when nervous or decided to go with “your gut feeling” when making a decision? Chances are that you were receiving signals from your second brain that you weren’t even aware of. The ENS or enteric nervous system is located in the walls of our gastrointestinal tract and consists of two layers and more than 100 million nerve cells. Irritations to the ENS system (IBS, constipation, diarrhea) send signals to the CNS, central nervous system, that can then trigger mood changes, rather than the other way around, mood changes and emotions triggering IBS, constipation, or diarrhea (2).

By better understanding the connection between our foods and our emotions we can take greater control of our health. This is not to say that foods can replace medications. Mental illness should always be taken seriously while working with your physician to find the best possible treatment for you.

But it is to say that small changes can really add up when it comes to our health, and studies have shown that you really are what you eat. 

References

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/nutrition-and-mental-health-is-there-a-link#Preventing-mental-health-conditions
  2. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-brain-gut-connection